Dying + Going to Hummus Heaven, aka S. Lefkowitz
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because global peace probably starts with eating well.
Would you go to a cafe that mainly serves hummus? Can you imagine yourself, tummy rumbling, staring down at a bowl of chickpea dip and thinking, “Yes, this is going to satisfy the mighty hunger within”?
A 20-seat restaurant that introduced my neighborhood to the concept of the hummusia…
You may think of hummus as a side dish usually served with pita bread or vegetables, arranged next to the chips at a potluck. Or as a healthy alternative to dairy-based dips or a protein-packed sandwich spread. In essence, a hearty, satisfying snack — but definitely not a meal.
That’s where I stood until a few weeks ago, when one of my favorite coffee shops closed its doors and later reopened as a hummus bar. After 20 years in the coffee trade, owner Ezra Braves abruptly shifted focus, going from grinding coffee beans to grinding garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas). His 20-seat restaurant, S. Lefkowitz, introduced my neighborhood to the concept of the hummusia, where the revered chickpea dip — which has sparked fierce rivalries — is a meal.
While hummusias are common in Israel, where stiff competition to claim “best” hummus is intense, S. Lefkowitz is the first of its kind in Toronto, and probably all of Canada. Many restaurants serve Middle Eastern food, but here “hummus is the star of the show,” Braves says. And diners know that. In fact, S. Lefkowitz’s opening day attracted hummus hounds, eager to be the first samplers, from across the city.
Why hummus? In a recent article, Braves said he was “blown away” by the hummusias in Israel. After having one of the best food experiences of his life, he started working on his own recipe, which was 15 years in the making. “As soon as I discovered hummus and tahini, I’ve pretty much been obsessed with it,” he told ShalomLife.
So let’s get to the good stuff. What’s in it?
Hummus is a simple, healthful food made from a handful of key ingredients, usually including mashed chickpeas, lemon, garlic, tahini, olive oil and salt. Once prepared, it becomes smooth paste that begs for swipes of warm pita bread. Or, it can serve as a creamy base for sliced hard-boiled eggs, spiced meat, warm olives and other toppings. Think of the marriage of warm, lemony hummus and savory, salty olives and try not to salivate.
His is made entirely from scratch, using organic ingredients. And always, always good salt.
To complement the hummus experience, hummusia diners can opt for sides like feta with mint, sardines and onions, green salad and labneh, a strained yogurt with the consistency of thick cream cheese (which also invites generous pita-dipping) that packs a distinct pungent taste. And then there are the drinks: bright green mint tea, black tea with licorice and more. All served in a delicate, crocheted cup holder.
When we ask Braves to dish on the secret to great hummus, he smiles and says, “There’s no real secret.” It comes down to quality of the ingredients; his is made entirely from scratch, using organic ingredients. And always, always good salt. Braves wants to serve something that elevates the act of eating, something you wouldn’t make at home — or find in a plastic container.
“It puts it into a food experience rather than just food maintenance,” he says.
He should know, having been in the food industry for 26 years. Some of his fondest memories are eating with his grandfather — whose photograph hangs prominently on the wall of the cozy 20-seat cafe and whose name is on the door: S. Lefkowitz.
The menu is simple, and the food is easy on the stomach — and the wallet. Almost everything comes in at under $10. So, it’s healthy, filling and, depending upon your topping or dipping option, can even be vegetarian or gluten-free.
The move from cafe to hummusia is an idea that Braves has been brewing for years. It just means that, now, coffee lovers can stay for lunch and leave feeling nourished.
And, yes, also feeling full.
Photographs by Barbara Fletcher